Bodkin point

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A bodkin point arrowhead

A bodkin point is a type of arrowhead. In its simplest form it is an uncomplicated squared metal spike, and was used extensively during the Middle Ages. The typical bodkin was a square-section arrowhead, generally up to 11.5 cm (4.5 in) long and 1 cm (0.39 in) thick at its widest point, tapered down behind this initial "punch" shape. Bodkin arrows complemented traditional broadhead arrows, as bodkin point arrows were designed to defeat mail armor while broadhead point arrows caused more serious wounds and tissue damage.[1]


The name comes from the Old English word bodkin or bodekin, a type of sharp, pointed dagger. Arrows of the long bodkin type were used by the Vikings and continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages. The bodkin point eventually fell out of use during the 16th and 17th centuries, as armour largely ceased to be worn and firearms took over from archery.

Armour penetration[edit]

It has been suggested that the bodkin came into its own as a means of penetrating armour, but research by the Royal Armouries[2] has found no hardened bodkin points, though only two bodkin points were actually tested, not a statistically relevant number[citation needed]. Bodkins did, however, have greater ability to pierce mail armour than broadheads, and historical accounts do speak of bodkin arrows shot from close range piercing plate armour[citation needed].

In a modern test, a direct hit from a steel bodkin point penetrated mail armour from a range of seven yards.[3] However, the test was conducted without a padded jack or gambeson, which was layered cloth armour worn under heavier armour for protection against projectiles.[4]

Armour of the medieval era was not completely proof against arrows until the specialised armour of the Italian city-state mercenary companies.[5] Archery was thought not to be effective against plate armour in the Battle of Neville's Cross (1346), the Battle of Bergerac (1345), and the Battle of Poitiers (1356); such armour became available to European knights and men at arms of fairly modest means by the late 14th century, though never to all soldiers in any army.[6]

Testing by Matheus Bane in 2006 and David Jones in 2014 demonstrated that a bodkin point arrow fired from longbow of ~75 pound draw weight at a distance of 10 yards could penetrate both gambeson and mail armor.[7][8] In addition, Bane's testing demonstrated that a bodkin point arrow would also be able to penetrate plate armor of minimum thickness (1.2 mm), although likely not lethally.[7] However, the arrowheads used in the Bane test were made of steel, while research by the Royal Armouries and the Historical Metallurgy Society suggests that a majority of medieval arrowheads were made from wrought iron instead.[1][2]

Computer analysis by Mariusz Magier, Adrian Nowak and others published in 2017 found that heavy bodkin point arrows could penetrate typical plate armour of the time at 225 metres (738 ft). The depth of penetration would be slight at that range but would increase as the range closed or against armour lesser than the best quality available at the time.[9]

In August 2019, the YouTube channel 'Tod's Workshop', together with historian Tobias Capwell (curator at the Wallace collection), Joe Gibbs (archer), Will Sherman (fletcher), and Kevin Legg (armourer) ran a practical test using a reproduction of a 15th century plate breastplate over a chainmail and gambeson against a 160 lbf (710 N) longbow. Both wrought iron and case hardened arrows were fired at the target from a distance of 25 meters. In contrast to the earlier computer analysis, neither arrow type successfully penetrated the breastplate.[10]


  1. ^ a b Starley, David; Cubitt, Rachel. "Wars of the Roses: battlefield arrowheads under the microscope". Historical Metallurgy Society Limited.
  2. ^ a b "Royal Armouries: 6. Armour-piercing arrowheads". Archived from the original on 2016-03-24. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
  3. ^ Pope, Saxton. Hunting with the Bow and Arrow: "To test a steel bodkin pointed arrow such as was used at the battle of Cressy, I borrowed a shirt of chain armour from the Museum, a beautiful specimen made in Damascus in the 15th Century. It weighed twenty-five pounds and was in perfect condition. One of the attendants in the Museum offered to put it on and allow me to shoot at him. Fortunately, I declined his proffered services and put it on a wooden box, padded with burlap to represent clothing. Indoors at a distance of seven yards, I discharged an arrow at it with such force that sparks flew from the links of steel as from a forge. The bodkin point and shaft went through the thickest portion of the back, penetrated an inch of wood and bulged out the opposite side of the armour shirt. The attendant turned a pale green. An arrow of this type can be shot about two hundred yards, and would be deadly up to the full limit of its flight."
  4. ^ Embleton, Gerry & Howe, John: "Söldnerleben im Mittelalter", p. 47, Motorbuchverlag 1994.
  5. ^ "Medieval Military Surgery", Medieval History Magazine, Vol 1 issue 4, December 2003
  6. ^ Strickland, M.; Hardy, R. The Great Warbow. Sutton Publishing 2005. Pages 272–278: "even at a range of 240 yards heavy war arrows shot from bows of poundages in the mid- to upper range possessed by the Mary Rose bows would have been capable of killing or severely wounding men equipped with armour of wrought iron. Higher-quality armour of steel would have given considerably greater protection, which accords well with the experience of Oxford's men against the elite French vanguard at Poitiers in 1356, and des Ursin's statement that the French knights of the first ranks at Agincourt, which included some of the most important (and thus best-equipped) nobles, remained comparatively unhurt by the English arrows."
  7. ^ a b Bane, Matheus (January 2006). "English Longbow Testing" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
  8. ^ Jones, David. "Arrows against Mail Armour" (PDF). Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries.
  9. ^ Magier, Mariusz; Nowak, Adrian; et al. (2017). "Numerical Analysis of English Bows used in Battle of Crécy". Issues of Armament Technology. 142 (2): 73, 77, 81, 84. doi:10.5604/01.3001.0010.5152. ISSN 1230-3801.

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